August 23, 2009

The UnSewing

A fellow blogger is planning a quilt made from her grandfather's shirts. These were the tips I wrote out for her that I thought would make a nice how to, and reference for others wanting to make a memory fabric quilt. These Memory Quilts are also called memorial quilts and can be made from nearly any clothing, from infant size all the way up to adults.

First things first: Before you do anything figure out what block, pattern, etc. you want to use. Take all the time you need to plan because the clothing will be waiting for you when you're ready. If you cut first and plan later you could throw away or cut something that you could have used if you had planned a little ahead. Feel free to cut out a scrap of paper in the size and shape that you'd like for pattern pieces. This is especially helpful in allowing you to tell if an applique piece can be "saved" or if the current pattern you've using could be better served a half inch bigger or smaller.

The seam cutting is the part I like least, I've found spending a bit of time planning helps me become excited so that I can take a deep breath and cut when need be.

Once you've determined your pattern you can turn the clothing inside out. Run sewing scissors down the seams. Most clothes are made using a Serger and you wont get much (if any) fabric from ripping the seams out. By this point you will already know what sizes of fabric you'd like to have so you can figure out if it's worth it to cut the sleeves and use them. When working with men's clothes I've found that most of the time the sleeves are worth the effort where as newborn t-shirts not so much. Long sleeves provide more fabric so be sure to grab those if you need to.

As you cut the fabric away from the seams pile the fabric into flat piles (I use a laundry basket now instead of the laundry bag I used the first go round), this will save on ironing big time. Using interfacing (you will need yards and yards) most likely something lightweight but heavy enough to prevent stretching. The easiest interfacing to use is the peal and stick but I found it to be to expensive to stabilize material for an entire quilt and it's thicker so if your hand quilting set the easy stuff aside. All the clothing quilts I've made so far have been pieced on the sewing machine, this allows me to use rolls of stabilizer and spray adhesive to stabilize the fabric. Just keep in mind every form of stabilizer I have come across is inflexible. The exact opposite of the cuddly. If you are using stabilizer instead of the interfacing recommended above, you will need to remove all traces of it from the finished quilt top before you quilt it. Since the fabric is no longer being held to one size you may have trouble quilting the final quilt as without extreme care this method will cause puckering of the knits as the stretch and pull under the sewing machine needle.

Don't worry about covering every last bit of fabric with interfacing. Always be thinking back to the design and or pattern to help you determine how much of the bits here and there around the main area need interfacing because if you don't need a 2" x 1 1/2" triangle...

Now throughout the entire cutting process keep on the look out for worn spots and little pin prick holes in the weave. The worst of these set aside for last because you will have a better idea of what you have, do you really need another bit of red or is it better to only take from the least worn parts. It's your quilt and when it's done only you will know that you didn't put that particular clothing item in, and even that fades with time as you enjoy the quilt as the finished product.

Also watch for "pills" this is where the fabric has pilled from being worn and washed. When you're lucky pills are found in the only arm area of the shirt and no where else. It would be a shame to use a pilled piece like that when another perfectly good spot could have been found on the back of the shirt. Often times the fabric on the back of the shirt will be much less worn allowing you to have that special one fabric included without compromising the finished quilt.

After that it's all about accurate cutting. I like to rotary cut stacking a couple of layers together and cutting downwards through all the layers at once it helps speed things up. Watch to make sure the fabric isn't leaning or skewing when you cut it, if it did try to cut it again using less layers. Some fabrics just like to be cut alone. Once you've cut everything to fit you're ready to quilt like any other project.

Things to save along the way: I cut off every single button and saved it for my button box. It's nice to have those for later use be it for decorating a bit on the final quilt or because you really need a replacement button for those pants the little bit of extra time will save you a trip to the store for buttons later.

I also saved some of the zippers. This is something I started doing recently, and they are in fact the only item I will seam rip out. To save them I cut around the zipper area, and set it aside. I set these in a Ziploc bag and only seam rip of the old clothing when I need a zipper that size, that way no effort was wasted. Extra zippers can be used in the construction of new clothes or repairing old ones. Remember a bit of bees wax will have a zipper that sticks working like new.

Pull strings, embroideries, etc. call me crazy but these types of items can always be set aside for another project. Perhaps you will decide three quarters of the way through your quilt that a matching pillow with that emblem on it would sure be nice. Can't use it if you threw it away.

What to do with all those seams? It felt like such a waste throwing away a huge pile of seams. but what in the world could you possibly do with them? Trust me I figured it out. The cat kept laying on the bag of seams when it dawned on me, stuffing. You have already removed the most offensive things preventing those scraps from becoming stuffing. The buttons and the zippers. Why not? If I know I'd like matching throw pillows I save the scraps for those and if not I do pitch them. That's where the lint and dust has built up over the life of the clothing so if you don't have plans for them don't keep them long they are an allergen pile waiting to happen, but if you do intend to make a completely closed pillow why not use them for stuffing. Just be sure to give the pillows a good wash before use.

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